The proposed Walnut Creek budget: the “new normal” and tough times ahead

The city proposes to eliminate the crossing guard program, install new parking meters, raise parking fines, and cut funding for the downtown trolley service and the contract for animal services. Also on the chopping block? Thirty-three full-time positions.

As for some good news (I think), the city also proposes to increase fees for massage permits and to administer alcohol licenses.

These are just some of the solutions suggested for dealing with “the new normal” economic reality in Walnut Creek, according to the proposed budget for the 2010-12 fiscal year that the city just released.

As the document says: “The economy is expected to continue to be depressed over the next two years and even when economic recovery occurs, revenue recovery for cities will likely lag behind any recovery in the private sector. In fact, a full return to the prosperous revenue levels of a few years ago may or may not occur.”

In addition,“Local government officials have begun talking about a “new normal” to describe the major economic reset that reassessments of property value and changing consumer behavior seem to indicate.”

For Walnut Creek this means trying to “balance for the future.” That is, the city says it is trying to take into account those services residents truly rely on the city to provide in the next year or two, and into the future. 

Should the city continue to put an emphasis on building up its arts, recreation, and “learning” services, which would include the library? Or should more money be given to the police department. These are some of the big questions I often see debated in the comments section of this blog. These are some of the big questions I expect the City Council to discuss on Tuesday night when it meet to begin discussing the budget.

As it turns out, Walnut Creek,  perhaps more than other cities, puts a lot of focus on its arts and recreation programs. There are a fair number of people who think that in lean times, arts and recreation programs should be at the top of any public agency’s cut list. Other people believe that the Walnut Creek’s quality of life, as well as its sense of identity and future economic vitality, depend on it being able to run a top performing arts facility and to open a state-of-the-art new library.

Here are some of the major items included in the proposed budget, in terms of what the city is looking to cut, change, and accomplish. I’ll be doing updates on this issue over the coming days. 

Money coming in—even if it’s not as much as before:

–Projected General Fund revenues overall for 2010-2011 total $61.3 million, a decrease of $1.5 million—or 2.4 percent less than estimated revenues for 2009-2010. For 2011-12, the projected General  Fund revenues total $62.9 million, a 2.6 percent increase over 2010-2011. 

–Sales tax “is projected to decrease by 6 percent  in fiscal year 2009-10,  decrease by another 3 percent  in 2010-11 and remain flat for 2011-2012. Sales tax collections in recent years have suffered from increased retail  competition in the area,  as well as the slowdown in sales of autos and other retail goods due to the softening local economy.  

–Property taxes: While property taxes are the largest source of revenue to the city’s general fund,  representing approximately $16 million of the total, “secured property taxes are expected to decline by 1 percent in fiscal year 2009-2010, decline by 6 percent in fiscal year 2010-2011 and an additional 3 percent in Fiscal Year 2011-2012 (compared to 6-8 percent growth in prior years),. These declines are due to the sluggish housing market and economy and an increasing number of commercial and office vacancies within the city.  It should be noted that residential properties represent approximately 75 percent of the total assessed property valuation within the city.”

–“Tax revenues resulting from the sale of both residential and commercial properties have declined by 75 percent over the last three years due to the conditions noted above, and are not expected to change significantly during fiscal years 2010-2012.”

Where it’s going:
–The recommended operating expenditures for 2010–11 total $60.5 million, a decrease of $3.2 million or 5 percent less than estimated expenditures for 2009-10, primarily due to the recommended elimination of 33.36 additional full-time equivalent positions, the recommended restructuring of several programs, including custodial services and facility rentals, as well as the anticipated elimination of divisions such as reprographics, mail and warehouse services.

–Recommended 2011–2012 expenditures total $59.8 million, a 1.2 percent % decrease from 2010-2011.

What’s going/changing
–Eliminate funding for the school crossing guard program. 

–Discontinue “Movies Under the Stars.”

–Discontinue school-year programming for teens, including the Youth Council, city support for three annual holiday-themed special events for children and youth, and the Teen Job Faire

–Stop funding for the Downtown Trolley and Shuttle Service, while other sources of funding are investigated for these services, such as grants, partnerships, and fees.

–In the police department,  freeze a police manager position, a watch commander/lieutenant position, a police dispatcher, and a police officer position

–Increase all parking fines by $5

–Eliminate funding for the contract with Contra Costa County for animals services beginning in 2011.

–Increase fees for taxi permits, dance permits, massage permits, and the adminstration of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) licenses.

–Cut temporary positions in the parks division

–Reduce financial support for the Lindsey Museum and the Gardens at Heather Farm Park.

–Eliminate a landscape maintenance worker position in the parks dvision.

–Reduce traffic cones placed at Homestead Avenue and Ygnacio Valley Road at peak times.

40 thoughts on “The proposed Walnut Creek budget: the “new normal” and tough times ahead

  1. Thanks for looking into this SM. The Times just seems to repeat what the city puts out. I for one believe our city arts programs, and our dining and shopping for that matter, will have little attraction to people if our community is not safe. Police funding should no doubt be the priority. It makes no sense to argue differently. What should be discussed is how much the city wants to put toward it's own arts programs and how much we want to contribute to other partnerships with private groups. As far as the library is concerned I always felt it was too large and expensive. Everyone in the clubs I belong to feels the same way. Again I'm glad you are asking the tough questions and not just repeating what comes out of the city or groups with a vested interest in seeing tax dollars come their way.


  2. Kind of a gloomy outlook, especially since I'm under the general impression that things are picking back up and I'm going to need to sell my house in the next couple of months.

    Not going to point out the elephant in the room because 1:32 (am!) already hit on it.


  3. Fix my sidewalks! I live on Mallard and our sidewalks are cracked and filled with weeds. Sorry to go off on a tangent…I agree completely with the first poster. Stick to the basics that cities HAVE to proivde like cops, streets, keeping the parks clean etc. Let private groups step up for the arts and recreation stuff. Since so few people use those services regularly they should be willing to volunteer or pay extra. Masterlock I'm getting ready to sell my home in Walnut Creek next year (staying in town however) and I'm terrified that an increase in crime and/or un-maintained streets/sidewalks/parks will hurt my property values.


  4. Let me get this straight: they're still proposing to spend 13 million dollars on arts but they can't afford a few crossing guards?


  5. The city has no business sponsoring any arts events other than maybe a yearly July 4th celebration. The arts should be funded via fund raisers and private enterprise. The city should provide police services and keep the streets safe and clean. WC needs a “back to basics” makeover.


  6. I'd like to see the details on the 12.6 million budgeted for Arts and Recreation. Is that information avaiable somewhere?


  7. Sidewalks are generally the responsibility of the property owner(s). I know because I just called the county about a cracked sidewalk in my 'hood.


  8. Did the city actually base this budget on the concerns of those who showed up at those spend the bucks meetings? If so, it's unbelievably naive. A professional survey would have been more efficient and realistic.

    Residents are not willing to give up safety for arts. Societies protect their children. Without a reliable crossing guard program we put our kids at risk.


  9. I'm very curious about police 'usage'. Is weekend 'coverage' for all the late night clubs increased out of proportion to baseline need? If so, since this crowd is likely highly composed of out of towners, these places should be charged a surcharge to cover the cost of the 'negative externalities' they generate and resulting costs they dump on the community. Perhaps $2 per meal, $1 per drink. This would be entirely reasonable since valet parking is $7, and would help pay for the costs of police.

    Of course, the Chamber of Corporatism would object and their appointed representatives, the City Council, would never consider such a fee, tax, call it what you like. Actually, consider it a cost of doing business.


  10. Walnut Creek is very good about making budgets available online. You can find everything starting here:

    Why is it that organizations when faced with making budget cuts refuse to see the big picture? They always go after the small stuff like crossing guards and putting out cones. We need fundamental changes not fiddling.

    Look at the proposed police budget and see a $1 million increase for personnel despite 12 less positions. Can you say “pensions”?


  11. So let's see what is on the list of cuts? Among other things:

    “Discontinue school-year programming for teens, including the Youth Council, city support for three annual holiday-themed special events for children and youth, and the Teen Job Faire”

    And people accuse me of going after Brendan? Could it be that Brendan might have enjoyed these programs? Oh wait our priority is feeding steak dinners and entertaining stranded kids from Belgium? Unless you think all these cuts are good news for the community you own me an apology.


  12. Jojo here's what city leaders said about pensions in the NutShell: “The City provides one of the most modest pension programs available and does not provide medical insurance for retired employees”. I've followed the pension issue pretty closely. The Wall Street Journal even picked up a story the Contra Costa Times wrote about pension spiking in the Moroga-Orinda Fire District. As a former private sector attorney that worked on government contracts I have some background in the field. This is one area Walnut Creek has been very conservative. Since I live in Walnut Creek I did my homework and our city employees are not given overly lavish pensions. Now Contra Costa County employees-that's a whole different story! They haven't even begun to deal with their issues.


  13. Anon 458 you are correct! currently several retired wc police officers are working full time jobs just to pay for their medical ins. One city employee is working as a greeter at wallmart to pay his medical. several worked for the city for over 30 years. Hardly a welthy life after wc.


  14. What's funny about the Library is the it is owned by the county and will be staffed by county employees that will have a better retirement than the cops that protect it.


  15. 8:22 The Library. How funny. Who will pay; who lied?

    Don't worry, we have it on tape. It will be available before the next election. In total clarity.


  16. 8:30. Curious. Who was the Primary proponent of the Library?

    I guess we'll see. And the responsibility that follows from those promises. Or lies. Or whatever.


  17. 9:09. Yes geater than 61% of voters within city boundaries approved, less than the 662/3 needed to pass a new tax.
    Next will be extending the boundries of the tax increase to the sphere of influence for fees to fund the mega-library.
    Whether that passes will be another story since we have just been saddled with Measure A to fund schools.


  18. Anon 12:42- I couldn't agree more- the city has no business providing funding for the “arts”.
    In an economy such as ours, that's the first thing that should go. I would love to see a closer breakdown of exactly which “arts” programs we are paying for.
    I would venture to guess that we're appeasing some
    bigwig somewhere whose wife enjoys her art and music.

    Wonder how much of the money for the multi million dollar library would come in handy now? Given supporting the arts or getting rid of a crossing guard, I'd take a crossing guard any day of the week!


  19. Wow- I had no idea we spent so much money dealing with the Lesher Center! The Bedford Gallery, etc.
    Can't more of that be privately funded? Why are my children losing crossing guards yet the Bedford Gallery receives the funding it does? Silly me, thought the kids in WC were more important. 😦


  20. A lot of great questions here!
    Now here's mine. Why are you not asking these questions at counsel meetinigs?
    There's an old saying. ” A closed mouth never gets feed”


  21. I was at that meeting where Cindy Silva was lying or misinforming the public. I know this blog jokes about that “damn library,” but spending all that money on that “damn library,” was not smart. The truth of the matter is that there were candidates who were not in favor of the then $40 million plus library but who were not voted in.


  22. Cindy Silva lists the the library foundation as a client of her consulting company on her web page:

    “Since 1980, I have owned my own consulting business — originally Eisley Communications, Inc., now Eisley Silva Communications. My current clients include Hill Physicians Medical Group, the largest network of independent physicians in northern California, and the Walnut Creek Library Foundation.”

    I would think this represents a serious conflict of interest. What may be more disturbing is that Mrs Silva is seemingly either very upfront and does not see an issue with it or she just doesn't care if its out there or perhaps we are all so stupid we wont notice?


  23. BOTH measures to support library funding were deafeated. Yes it requires a 2/3 majority. 66% seems like a lot but right now that 34% is looking pretty darn smart. The other consideration is that both Library measures were pushed on WC residents with an election like campaign. This included rallying by the WC Library Foundation and their paid consulting firm owned by now Councilperson Cindy Silva. There was no organization actively campigning against the measures. Even with all the consultants, letters to the editor, puff pieces in the Times and the full support of the city council both measures were still defeated. Some local business people and families also supported the Library Foundation (the Dudums for one). This was because of the strong council support for the library. Quiz time: Can anyone guess when and how the Dudum's cashed in their chip with the City Council???? Here's a hint-1515.


  24. Let's see if WC residents are smart enough to vote out some of the City Council. Of the current 5, Simmons and Rajan were not on the Council when the library was approved. Skrel voted no, he thought it was too big. Silva and Rainey voted yes, and Silva is the Library's biggest champion. Charlie Abrams and Gwen Regalia voted yes then did not run for re-election, however I bet they will both be on hand to show their grandkids their names on the nice new bronze plaque when the $40 million beast opens this summer!

    And don't forget that the City Council FIRED City Manager Mike Parness when he told them the library was too big and they should cut the size of it to make it more affordable. Yes that's right Parness said “we can't afford this”. Sorry Mike you're fired! Now we have lapdog Gary Pokorny. “Good boy, Gary, goooooood boy, have another doggie biscuit and go sit in the corner.”


  25. 11:57am,

    Thanks for the opportunity to say that Gary Pokorny is one of the best City Managers we have ever had in Walnut Creek. Mike Parness and Don Blubaugh were very good City Managers, as well.

    11:57, it's too bad that you don't honor the American tradition that our elected representatives make the decisions for which we elected them.

    If Walnut Creek voters disagree, they will make their will known. I cannot wait to see the opponents, though, in the next election.


  26. Hey, isn't Don Blubaugh the guy who is double or triple dipping pensions to the total of over $350,000 a year? Public servant indeed, he's serving himself at the public trough. Shame!


  27. Don Blubaugh straightened out a bunch of cities and did not make multiple millions as he could have in the private sector. Do you have a specific complaint and would you like to identify yoursely to make it?

    BTW, I don't need to identify myself because I'm am not attacking an individual person by name without identification.


  28. 8:35 I am not the same person 11:57, but I thought I would add to your comment about elected officials.

    Perhaps not honoring the the traditions of a “representative democracy” is one way to look at it. I however don't agree with your assessment. You see our fair city has “at large” council members that for the most part live outside of the city center, and don't really represent everyone's interests with an even hand. The city council elections basically come down to money, and who is willing to spend it. Because of the at large nature of the council elections it would be a mistake to think that the 3rd place finisher represents the will of the people. Yes every other election in walnut creek the top 3 vote getters get council seats and each voter can pick 3 out of however many. So its conceivable that we could seat a council member with with 1% or even 1 vote, who can then get a turn at mayor…wow!

    Then you have to take other things into account, like our last council, two of them where next door neighbors and a 3rd lived around the corner. So 3/5's of the council really represented a small part of the community from residents perspective.

    Add that WC does not select a mayor either, the council more or less takes turns, on a yearly rotation.

    Beyond that the library shows our leadership is willing to go against voter will and city rules (the funding vs 2/3rds vote), to get what the leadership wants. 1515 is a good illustration of how the leadership caves in and reverses position to appease an ally, over public safety.

    And then there is the case of the council member who was the Executive Director of the WC Library foundation, and apparently a paid consultant for the foundation as well. I wonder if she has recused herself from voting anything Library as a conflict of interest? I would like to ethics might be an “American tradition” as well, as you put it, but maybe not in this town, at least for now.


  29. Dear Readers:
    I've been reading and considering some of the comments here, notably some conflict of interest allegations made against a certain city council person.
    It's been a while since I looked at conflict of interest law, or talked to a government watchdog group that can explain whether certain circumstances rise to the level of conflict of interest. From what I remember, the circumstances have to be very precise.

    You can read more at the Attorney General Office's website.

    The person in question is a public official, which means, in my view, having to endure a certain slings-and-arrow reality. And people on this blog are free to voice their opinions about a public figure they don't agree with.

    However, I don't like people throwing around a term like conflict of interest unless they have the evidence to back it up That's a serious charge to make. I'm sure there are many people in public life, and many bloggers (including yours truly) who have strong personal interests in certain public issues. I can't think of any of my interests that lead to financial gain–significant financial gain. If only.

    If some of you don't like a particular council person, it is fair to voice your complaints against her decisions, public actions, positions. And it's your right to mount a campaign to throw any of the council people out of office. And if you concerns anyone in the city not acting with integrity, I think it's fair to raise those questions and bug someone to look into. But have the evidence if you start throwing of Cof-word around on my blog.



  30. Point taken, but please understand, I wasn't making an accusation in terms of criminal activity.

    The question I asked was rooted in my feeling that its quite an ethical hurdle, to go from being the Executive Director of an organization to having a business relationship with the same organization, to an elected seat on a body that governs the sole interest of that very organization…and has she recused herself from voting as a matter of propriety.

    The basis for the question, quite frankly is provided by Mrs. Silva herself on her website:

    She states under “Business Experience”

    I have 30 years of business experience in marketing and communications…My current clients include Hill Physicians Medical Group, the largest network of independent physicians in northern California, and the Walnut Creek Library Foundation.”

    And, she states her leadership experience

    Walnut Creek Library Advisory Team

    Measure Q Campaign (library funding) Committee

    Walnut Creek Library Foundation, Executive Director


  31. May 3,9:22PM

    Contra Costa Times wrote about Don Blubaugh and several other public servants who had taken advantage of the system to amass a very tidy sum. I believe Daniel Borenstein wrote a column about these huge pensions and Don was mention there as well.


  32. It gives me hope that there are citizens in Walnut Creek that keep such a watchful eye and spend the time to track the activities of our million dollar plus per year executive team and council members. Residents have taken a huge hit in services, and this is only the tip of the iceberg with more cuts in six month increments. The decision to go forward with the library, despite opposition from our prior City Manager, voters, employees and residents was a clear disaster for our City. The library must now stay, but Gary Pokorny & the City Council members that pushed that library down our throats need to GO.


  33. Went to the new library today. It's sweet. Whine all you want about the cost, I think it's well worth it. And judging by the reactions of the hordes of other people there today, many of others also think so. When the council members who supported this library are up for reelection 40% of you will vote against them. The rest of us won't.


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